Guide – How to Construct a Wine Cellar

As founder of Wine Racks America, I’ve had the priviledge of working with thousands of customers who get as excited as I do about wine. Most wine collectors know a lot about wine, but not so much about how to properly store, age and encourage wine to mature to its fullest potential.

I thought it would be helpful to create a simple, informative guide that walks you through each step involved in creating efficient, effective wine storage that will coax your wine to mature optimally and increase your enjoyment as you savor the fruits of your patience and effort.


What is really involved in designing & installing my wine cellar?

We recieve phone calls every day from people that are going to transform a room in their home or retail space into functional wine storage. It is a treat to hear all the creative ideas that so many people have, and how excited they are to show off their wine collection.

The fact is that there are a lot of options to consider. If you are going to actively cool your wine collection you will need to start with a properly located area with adequate insulation and ventilation for your cooling system. Along the way there are quite a few decisions to make. For instance, how will you light it, are you going to use a glass door, flooring, wall covering…not to mention the racking. We feel the best wine cellars reflect the personality of their owners and cater to the wine room’s overall use and the types of wine being stored.

It depends on the results you are after. What is your vision?

Tip: Unless you intend to create fully custom, one-of-a-kind racking from exotic materials, you will likely end up choosing from modular racking products. Because no two spaces are identical, modular racking is designed to fit together in a way that allows you to optimize your space without the added expense and lead times associated with a completely custom racking product.

What exactly is a modular wine racking system?

A modular wine storage system, like your kitchen cabinets, is made up of individual units that are grouped together to form a storage system.

There are many different companies that produce modular wine storage systems. At Wine Racks America we manufacture our instaCellar, CellarVue and Retail Edge Series modular storage systems out of wood, which is available unstained or with a variety of finishes. We also design and distribute modular systems produced by industry partners such as Kessick Wine Cellars, VintageView Wine Storage Systems and more.

Examples of Different Modular Racking Systems


There are unlimited ways to lay out your wine room


Cellar Design Guide

Step 1 – Decide How You Want to Cool Your Wine

When you boil it down there only two different types of wine cellars – passive & active.

Whatever your approach is to your cellar, remember this:

The ideal room conditions for long term storage consist of a constant temperature between 55°F and 60°F with 50% to 70% relative humidity.

PASSIVE CELLARS

Ideally, a passive cellar will maintain constant temperature and humidity year round – like a cave in France. Basement spaces that are ideal for passively storing wine are usually below grade and surrounded by earth on 2-3 walls. If the room that you choose to store your wine in does not have a 6 degree temperature swing in a 12 month period and falls in the right humidity range, all you need to do is add some racking, and viola, instant wine cellar.

ACTIVE CELLARS

If your room is not in an ideal spot, you are going to have to actively control the conditions of the room with insulation, a vapor barrier, a cooling unit etc. To build a room specifically for these conditions, you’ll want to take extra care during construction so that you don’t eventually damage your storage space or overwork your cooling unit.

Step 2 – Frame, Insulate & finish your room

Constructing Your Cellar Space

When you create a cooled wine room you are in fact creating a walk-in refrigerator. As such the three key ingredients in any wine room are insulation, insulation and more insulation! Each aspect of your room – cooling system, door, lighting, windows and glass panels need to be properly insulated so that your cooling system works properly and your wine can age in splendor.

If you have the luxury of starting from scratch, try to pick a space that is not exposed directly to the sun. Preferably the basement. If it is above ground try to locate it near the center part of the home.

If you are going to cool the room with one of our popular through-wall cooling systems, you will need a space next to it large enough to dissipate the warm air that is discharged. If not, you’ll be ducting air to and from the wine room with either a cooling system that runs in another room or a split system where the compressor is housed outside and the fan is located inside.

1. Wall & Ceiling Construction

Use 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s in framing the walls. Use at least a 2 x 8 in framing the ceiling. All are 16″ on center. Remember the more room for insulation, the better (I like to frame with 2×6’s).

Framing (2 x 4’s Shown)

2. Vapor Barrier

A 6mm plastic barrier (available at most larger home stores) wrapped around the entire room including the ceiling is the only way to seal the room against moisture transfer.

Apply the vapor barrier to the “warm side” of the wall. The side of the wall that houses the wine is the “cool” side.

What are we trying to prevent is the warm air from an adjacent room or the outside coming through the wall and hitting the cool air of the wine cellar. When this happens you get condensation and over time, this can cause issues with mold and mildew.

By simply putting a vapor barrier on the outside of the wall, this will prevent the warm air from travelling through the wall, thus preventing condensation.

(figure 1)

(figure 2)

3. Insulation

You can use fiberglass bats, rigid foam or blown in insulation. There ought to be a minimum of R-19 in the walls, and R-30 in the ceiling. The R-value is an insulation designation. Basically the higher the R-value the better the insulation.

Insulation Installed

4. Sheetrock

For longetivity add moisture resistant sheetrock (green board) over the studs and insulation. Then add a wall treatment that suits your tastes.

Before you finish mudding, double check to make sure all air leaks in the room are sealed tight. Make sure to tightly seal and weather strip holes in your sheetrock from light switches, cooling units, power outlets, etc.

Greenboard Sheetrock

5. Wall Treatment

One of the most common questions we get is, “What should I cover the walls with?” The answer is “whatever makes you happiest.” Here are some common choices…

Wall Treatment Applied

6. Flooring

Definitely use a solid surface – something that spilled wine or moisture won’t hurt. Sealed hardwood, tile, stone & sealed concrete are all popular choices. Don’t use carpet. Mold and mildew will show up very quickly.

7. Doors & Windows

The added expense of building a quality wine cellar that includes insulation, a cooling unit, moisture resistant sheetrock, etc., needs to also include high quality doors & windows. These two items are responsible for more temperature and moisture exchange than any other part of your cellar.

DOORS

Actively cooled wine cellars demand an exterior grade door with dual pane insulated glass, tight-fitting closure hardware and weather stripping to hold in the cold. Interior grade doors will NOT insulate well enough and your cooling system will pay the price.

WINDOWS

Same basic principles as the door. Quality insulated glass, a high quality frame, and good sealant should be your rule of thumb.

You CANNOT go overboard when it comes to sealing up your cellar. Use caulk, sheetrock mud, super glue, chewing gum (ha ha) – anything you can find to seal every crack and crevice before you insulate and vapor lock.

Solid Exterior Grade Alder Wine Cellar Doors

Exterior Grade Window

8. Lighting

Lighting examples from a few of our customers

Always opt for below-ceiling lighting from a low wattage source. Avoid Recessed “can” lighting.

Try a low wattage track lighting system, or some wall sconces placed just above the racking. Rope lighting, candles, and even LED lighting can add interesting touches to your cellar decor.

If you put the light switch on a timer, you wont have to worry about the lights being left on after you have visited the cellar a couple of times during the evening. Cellared wine does not like bright lights for long periods of time.

Step 3 – Choosing Racking and Cooling

Select a racking style that fits your taste and budget

Is your cellar going to be the crown jewel of your home or is it for utility and just “getting the wine off the floor?” Admittedly, choosing the best options can feel a little intimidating. We like to follow this rule of thumb:

Let how you feel about your wine dictate how you display it. If you consider a wine bottle a work of art, then get racking that will allow you to see your favorite bottle labels. If you have lots of bottles but not a lot of variation, get “plainer” storage such as bulk bins and cubes.

What wood type is best for me?

At Wine Racks America we create racking made from Ponderosa Pine, Premium Redwood and genuine Sapele Mahogany.

What’s the difference?

PINE

This sturdy, affordable wine cellar material is beautiful as is or stained to match other types of wood. Stain to match mahogany, cherry, or add a polyurethane clear coat to bring out the natural beauty. Pine lends a rustic, warm feeling to any room or cellar.

Ponderosa Pine

REDWOOD

Redwood is a favorite among collectors, designers and decorators for its stunning natural beauty and versatility. Redwood contains chemicals that make it naturally resistant to moisture and mildew, making it a perfect racking material for dark, moist environments like a wine cellar.

Redwood

MAHOGANY

With its rich brown color and straight grain, mahogany is a hardwood many of our customers spec into their cellar plans. Mahogany takes stain beautifully and looks amazing in wine cellars.

Mahogany

Next, choose a cooling system

Depending on how well the space has been insulated, most cooling units have about a 30° threshold that they can maintain between the wine cellar and the room that the exhaust vents into. This means that if you want your wine cellar to remain 55°F, then the room that you are venting into cannot get warmer than 85°F. If it does, your cooling unit may “back-cycle” and quit prematurely. Therfore you should never vent into a closet, crawlspace, attic, or other space inadequate for heat dissipation.

Through-Wall Systems

There are many styles and brands of through-wall systems available. Conceptually, all units are alike in that they remove heat (and moisture) from your space by pulling warm air out and forcing cool air in. Through-wall units need to exhaust into an adjacent space, so make sure there is adequate ventilation in the room you exhaust into. Some through-wall systems have ducting kits available that allow you to exhaust warm air as far as 25′ to a source of fresh air.

PROS

  • Cost Effective
  • DIY Installation
  • Can fit into odd spaces
  • Exhaust can be ducted

CONS

  • Can be noisy
  • Requires drainage
  • Requires cutting a hole

WhisperKOOL Extreme 5000ti


Split Systems

With a split system, the compressor is located outside so your wine cellar is 100% quiet and vibration-free. Due to the use of line sets to carry refrigerant, split systems require installation by a qualified HVAC technician. Split systems are the most efficient and quiet option for wine cellars.

PROS

  • Ultra-quiet performance
  • Higher BTU capabilities
  • Low-profile fans are nearly invisible
  • No ducting required

CONS

  • Exterior housing unit required for compressor
  • Professional install required

Cellar Pro 3000sh


Ducted All-In-Ones

These units combine the best aspects of a split system without the added hassle and expense of installing two separate units. Using simple duct, you can install the unit in an adjacent room so it’s quiet and vibration free in your wine cellar. Most ducted All-In-Ones can be installed by a novice or DIY homeowner.

PROS

  • Cost effective and quiet
  • Highly configurable duct options
  • Virtually invisible in the cellar
  • DIY installation

CONS

  • Requires drainage for condensate
  • Requires space next to your cellar

Wine Guardian D050


Ceiling Mount Splits

A ceiling mount unit is the ultimate in quiet performance. Thermodynamics dictate that cooling systems run most effficiently when there is maximum air circulation. Ceiling mounted split systems are quicky gaining popularity due to their quiet, powerful performance and nearly invisible footprint in the cellar.

PROS

  • Maximum efficiency
  • Powerful and quiet
  • Nearly linvisible in the cellar
  • No drainage required

CONS

  • Professional install required
  • Exterior install required
  • Installation can be tricky

WhisperKOOL Ceiling 4000


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Wine Racks America